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Introduction to Krakow

Tips for the First-Time Visitor

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Krakow Street

Krakow Street

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When you visit Krakow, you virtually step back in time. Unlike many Polish towns, which were decimated during WWII, Krakow suffered damage on a much less dramatic scale. Therefore, when you visit Krakow, you see structures and streets as authentic representations of themselves. But Krakow isn’t simply a history buff’s dream—it’s also a beautiful city with a lively tourist industry, an energetic student population, and year-round activities to allow visitors to mix and mingle with the locals in elegant surroundings.

Start your exploration of Krakow on Market Square, where the Cloth Hall continues to be used according to its original purpose: as a place where merchants can sell wares of all types. Today, the Cloth Hall is an excellent place to buy souvenirs from Poland, including jewelry, wooden sculptures, and pottery. Other Krakow must-see sights on the square include the town hall and St. Mary’s Church, from where a trumpeter bugles a strangled string of notes in the memory of the signal cut short when a Turkish arrow struck the throat of his medieval forerunner hundreds of years ago.

Market Square is also the sight of historic eateries with pleasant outdoor terraces where you can people watch, enjoy a glass of vodka, or share an ice cream with a traveling companion. Don’t forget to try Polish specialties when you dine out. Poland prides itself on its thick, meaty stews and succulent pierogi.

Wawel Castle is an important stop on your tour of Krakow. The site of royal coronations and burials, it overlooks the Vistula River and encompasses palaces, a cathedral, and other buildings used by Polish kings and queens. It’s one large museum now, but the castle grounds are free to explore, and a visit to its grounds can take up the better part of a day. Be sure to visit the Sigismund Chapel in the cathedral and the private apartments of Poland’s royalty if you plan to spend some time on Wawel Hill. You can also see Krakow's very own dragon guarding his den at the base of the castle's foundation.

Near Wawel Castle, the Kazimierz district of Krakow attracts trendy visitors and locals. As the Jewish area of Krakow, it's rich with history and Jewish heritage. Kazimierz has a vivacious nightlife and its own calendar of events. Its annual Jewish Cultural Festival is well publicized and well attended by people from all over the world.

Krakow’s calendar of events is packed year round, and any season you choose to visit Krakow will offer a variety of events specific to that season. In December, the Krakow Christmas market becomes a main feature of the old town. During the popular summer months, which see the city crowded with tourists, Wianki, Juvenalia, and medieval fairs at Wawel Castle are fun events that lend the city a party atmosphere. Easter in Krakow is a special time of year that combines Krakovians’ Catholic and pagan heritages into one holiday event.

Visitors to Krakow will find lots to do. It’s easy to spend a day or two sightseeing, and the rest of a trip can be occupied with dining out, attending concerts and performances, and enjoying seasonal activities and festivals. Visit Krakow’s own dragon by the Vistula waterside, take a river cruise, or spend some time in one of Krakow’s many museums. If you want to get your bearings, the best way to do so is to take a tour of the city. You’ll learn about its history and legends and get a feel for the layout of its streets.

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